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What is an Inkless Tattoo?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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When a tattoo machine is used without ink, the resulting mark on the client is known as an inkless tattoo. Depending on how the tattoo is cared for, it will turn into a subtle scar which will disappear entirely in a year or so. There are numerous reasons to choose to get inkless tattoos, and numerous tattoo shops offer them, although they may not advertise the service.

A tattoo machine uses a vibrating motor to push needles into the skin thousands of times a minute. When the needles are dipped in ink, the result is a tattoo. When the needles are run “dry,” they create a wound which is essentially a series of puncture marks. In the case of an inkless tattoo, the artist runs over the design several times to ensure even coverage, and the client is given specific aftercare instructions, depending on how he or she wants the tattoo to turn out.

The process of getting an inkless tattoo is similar to that involved in getting a tattoo with ink. The client will still experience the pain and subsequent endorphin release involved in tattooing, and he or she will be left with a mark which has personal meaning. Sterile tools are used at all times in professional shops, to ensure that the tattoo does not become infected. Getting this kind of tattoo can be more painful since without the ink, the tattoo needle is not lubricated.

When people get tattoos with ink, they are given aftercare instructions which encourage quick, smooth healing, and these instructions are designed to prevent scarring, as a scar can disfigure a tattoo. In the case of an inkless tattoo, clients are told to abuse the tattoo, picking at the scab which will form and allowing it to dry out to encourage the formation of a scar. Within a few weeks, the tattoo will have created a distinctive scar which fades in under a year, most typically.

For people who want the experience of a tattoo without the permanence, an inkless tattoo is an excellent option. These designs are also easy to conceal, because they are less bold than tattoos produced in ink, which is a concern for people in some industries. Some people also enjoy the process of fading and healing; for example, the tattoo may commemorate a death or major life event, with the fading of the tattoo signaling a transition for the client.

Not all tattoo artists will perform inkless tattoos, and all tattoo artists are not created equal. If you are interested in getting one, you may want to ask around among friendly tattoo shops who can recommend a shop if they don't perform the service. You may also hear an inkless tattoo called a “body etching,” so you may want to ask under both names.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1001228 — On Mar 30, 2019

Can an inkless tattoo help to tone down previous color or unwanted marks in a tattoo?

By anon342186 — On Jul 18, 2013

It said that this can be more painful because the needle isn't lubricated with ink, but when you get an ink tattoo, the tattoo artist lubricates the skin and the needle with tattoo lubricant such as vaseline, A&D ointment, etc. And one would also lubricate the skin and needle the same way even if no ink is being used, so the only reason it would be more painful is because the artist makes more passes with the needle in order for it to scar. Normally, only one or two passes are made over the same spot, but with the inkless, your intention is to do more passes which will cause more pain.

By mexicana — On Apr 29, 2008

I can definitely see why people would like these - more subtle, less permanent, etc. However, it seems a little like self-mutilation to me so I would personally not ever do it - I wouldn't want people think I was just cutting myself. It's kind of the same way I feel about branding. I like plain black tattoos myself.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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